CORUNNA — On Monday the 35th Circuit announced that it has created a new court program aimed at helping veterans who are caught up in the criminal justice system.

The court hopes the new program will help keep veterans who have been charged with crimes out of prison and instead focus on their rehabilitation. Court officials are calling it a prison diversion program.

The new Veterans Treatment Program will be a collaboration between the Saginaw Veterans Administration and the Shiawassee County Treatment Courts, including Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and the Swift and Sure Sanctions Probation Program.

According to circuit court administrator Krissi Lab, the Veterans Treatment Program will be a “track” that a veteran will follow after they have been charged as they work their way through the court system.

If a veteran meets the criteria to be placed in either the drug court, mental health court or the probation program, the court will do all it can to see that veteran avoids spending time behind bars.

Currently, the program is just aimed at felony charges and the veteran has to be diagnosed with a mental illness or substance abuse program to qualify.

They have to be categorized as a “non-violent offender” to be eligible as well.

“They would then be placed in the mental health, veterans, or the drug court treatment track,” Lab said.

The court will provide the veteran with supervision and compliance support so they can successfully complete whatever sentence the court imposes on them.

“It allows the court and the specialty courts to collaborate with the VA in Saginaw and bring in more resources to our veterans who have been charged with crimes,” Lab said.

“The veterans treatment track will promote sobriety, recovery and stability through a coordinated response that involves collaboration with the community treatment providers, community agencies and organizations, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare networks, Veterans Benefits Administration, our local Department of Veterans Affairs office, volunteer mentors, and organizations that support veterans and veterans families,” the 35th Circuit Court said in a press release.

“Our Shiawassee County veterans have done what they can to serve our country and community. Our community must do what we can to support and honor their service and sacrifice,” said Circuit Judge Matthew Stewart.

He said he wants to ensure that any veteran entering the 35th Circuit Court has access to the support and treatment they need and deserve to address combat and service-connected needs.

The veteran’s treatment track will be implemented within the current treatment court programs.

It will “ensure that all Shiawassee County veterans charged with felonies who may be suffering from addiction, mental health issues, and other combat-related disorders receive proper support and treatment.

“Justice-involved veterans will be diverted from incarceration and provided supervision and compliance support and monitoring from the treatment teams, which include the judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, Michigan Department of Corrections, treatment providers, police and compliance managers,” the court’s press release said.

According to recent VA statistics, a little less than 9 percent of Shiawassee County residents are veterans. Less than one percent of them, historically, have had run-ins with the law.

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